Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Fallon Hotel – Chapter Ten

BilboquetJust as they reached the top stair leading to their room, Jeri heard a cheerful, lilting voice from downstairs at the lobby desk.  “Hulloh and welcome to the Fallon Hotel!  How can I help ya?”

Holding tight to Andy’s hand, Jeri leaned over the railing and looked down to see a brand new face behind the counter.  A woman with dark hair piled high atop her head, in a disheveled sort of Gibson-style, was bent over the guest ledger.

As she was forming the words in her mouth to speak, Jeri became conscious of the fact that she was grinding her teeth.  “Actually, my son and I are already guests here.  We’re just returning from a day walking around town.”

The woman looked up, with a sweet expression that was clearly a mix of embarrassment and apology.  Her cheeks flushed a bright red and Jeri could see she was very young, perhaps in her early twenties, maybe even late teens.  She shook her head and lightly smacked her forehead with her hand.  “Oh, Navy Blue!  Forgive me, won’t ya?”

The woman’s accent had a touch of English or some other dialect that Jeri was fairly certainly was from ‘across the pond,’ as her grandmother used to say, but that Jeri could not quite put her finger on, despite having a pretty keen ear for language.

“Nice to meet the both of ya.  My name is Gwen.”  Unlike old Evil-it/Evelyth, who must have been there too long to remember that she even wore a nametag, Gwen touched hers with her index and third fingers to highlight her moniker.

“Nice to meet you.  I’m Jeri and this is my son, Andy.”  Andy stood at the top of the stairs and continued to play with the Bilboquet, ignoring both women.

Gwen leaned back and put her hands on her hips.  “Nice Bilbo ya got there, ‘twas one of ma’ fav’rites when I was a child.”  She smiled and raised her shoulders up near her ears in excitement, as the memory flashed across her face.

In an effort to be polite, since the woman seemed intent on conversation, Jeri started to lead Andy back down the stairs to the hotel lobby.  Under her breath she muttered something about Gwen belonging to the generation that invented electronic social media and questioned what time, if any, was spent with wooden toys.

Once downstairs, Jeri thought how Gwen, more so than any of the town’s other working occupants so far, looked more authentically antiquated.  Maybe wooden toys were her chosen cup of tea, after all.  It wasn’t just the old fashioned outfit she wore, which every single employee of Columbia did, to appear as though they hailed from another era.  This young woman truly fit the part.  Her dark hair, which she had pinned both artistically and messily in a fashion that had disappeared almost a century earlier, was fastened in the back with a large black velvet bow and framed skin that could best be described as alabaster, since it was white and looked as cool as marble.  There was a bit of pink to her cheeks and she had perfect bow-shaped lips that Jeri had only ever seen on silent movie stars, in films she’d seen as a kid on late night television.  In addition to the way she dressed, although it was terribly convincing in and of itself, even her body was in keeping with another era, with her ample bosom and a tiny, tiny waist that Jeri thought might actually be restrained under her clothing by an honest to goodness whalebone corset.  Just as her eyes landed on what appeared to be a genuine ivory cameo fastened to the top of her blouse, the icing on the cake to complete her vintage look, Jeri heard Gwen’s musical voice float across the air once again.

“Oh, Jeri and Andy, it is lovely to make your acquaintance, especially seein’ how we’ll be breakin’ bread together this evenin’ in the home of Miss Ruth.  Gwen grinned and her green eyes sparkled behind lashes as long as any mascara commercial.

There was something about the way she spoke; the clip to her speech; the unusual syntax and word choice that added to the impression that she’d just fallen through the atmosphere from another era.  Surely this was more than just an effort to fit into the old timey feel of the town, Jeri thought.

Despite her initial knee-jerk reaction to her, Jeri found herself charmed by Gwen.  “Your accent is quite beautiful, Gwen.  Where are you from… originally?”

For some reason, Jeri wasn’t surprised when Gwen gave an honest-to-goodness little courtesy at the question.  “I hail from Cheshire, England.  Weaverham, specifically.  My family has lived there forever.  In fact, I’m one of the first in many years to leave and wander so far from home.  The last member of my family who did so, about 150 years ago, was a great aunt who they tell me made a similar journey to this very area, which everyone thought was just a case of her running against the wind, too.  Of course, I’m not comin’ for any gold.   I just felt compelled to follow ma’ heart and this happens to be where it lead me.

“Very nice and how do you like it so far?”  Jeri refrained from asking her if anything odd had happened to her, just yet.

Gwen raised her hand and motioned, as if presenting the unseen landscape outside.  “It’s lovely country.  Not so different from home that ma’ sensibilities are shook.  You know, we even have mining back home, but it’s for salt — which funny enough, was once worth somethin’, too.  They even had sayings for it, like ‘Ooh, that there’s a man worth his weight in salt!’  Nowadays, there’s no more gold to be had here and salt can be bought for pennies a pound.  Isn’t it funny how time has changed so many things?”  Gwen giggled.

Gwen’s giggle was high pitched and chirpy, almost like the warbling of a bird.  In fact, it reminded Jeri of a Winter Wren.  Winter Wren Gwen was going to have to be her new nickname, as far as Jeri was concerned.

Reaching her arm across to hug Andy, who continued to look down at his toy, but wriggled in protest to the idea of a hug, Jeri rolled her eyes at Gwen.  “Yes, yes.  That is funny.  Well, Gwen — you and I are both strangers in a strange, new land.  My son and I are in the process of relocating to this area from the high desert of Southern California.  We aren’t as far away from home as you, but it might as well be another continent, everything is so different for us.”

Gwen nodded.  “Odd, that.  Bein’ so far away.  But still, this truly already feels like home to me and, I can’t explain it, but my heart is somehow happier here than it has ever been.”

Releasing Andy, Jeri agreed.  “Yeah, I understand that.  Even though it’s radically different for us, my heart is happier, too.  And no, we didn’t come for gold either.”  We came for good, Jeri thought.

Gwen leaned forward on the counter and stared at Andy.  “Young master Andy, what do you think of yer new habitat?”

Instead of correcting Gwen and giving her the lengthy diatribe about Andy’s language deficiencies, Jeri watched expectantly to see what would transpire.  Very calmly, Andy cocked his head to one side, as though someone were whispering in his ear.  “President Polk opened up the hills of California and here we are.”  He turned and smoothly walked down the hallway toward the exit sign.

Hands on her hips, Gwen giggled and addressed Jeri.  “Smart little feller you’ve got there, M’am.  Knowing his Presidents like that!”

The front door opened with a jingle and Gwen turned her attention toward the bell, her cheerful, lilting voice almost matched the tinkle of the bell as she once again greeted a couple of newcomers.  “Hulloh and welcome to the Fallon Hotel!  How can I help ya?”

Mindlessly shaking her head, Jeri walked down the hall to retrieve her son to get ready for their evening at Ruth’s house.  Incapable of absorbing her son’s strange response, she walked with her head down, seeing only the tops of her shoes and hearing the muffled voices of the customers in the lobby from behind her.

The hallway was warm, with the air from the heater pulsating in the narrow space.

Jeri suddenly felt fatigued, with a strong and overwhelming desire to shut her eyes.  She looked over and noticed that Andy had stopped in front of a doorframe and placed his forehead against it.  Jeri leaned her left shoulder against the wall closest to her and gave in to the impulse to shut her eyes, just for a moment.  Mother and soon stood motionless in the middle of the small hallway.  Standing there, completely still, Jeri realized they were two weary travelers, who needed to take a minute to recharge before moving on.

Jeri lifted her hands and rubbed her eyes, thinking how tired they still were from the long drive on the mountain roads.  She blinked her eyes open and found herself staring over her right shoulder at yet another odd and haunting lithograph of a forest fire and thought what a weird thing it was to paint and hang on a wall, especially inside of a public building in a community that was so dry during the summer months.  Her father had once said that the only gold left in California could be found in the tinderbox hillsides from June to October.

She shivered and goosebumps rippled their way up to her cheek, but only on the side closest to the painting.  She shut her eyes again and listened to the low humming and whooshing of the heater and felt the warm air gently blowing across the top of her head and face, but still — her entire right side was chilled.  She could hear the hushed conversation from behind her, in the hotel lobby, and she strained to hear what they were saying, in an effort to concentrate on something besides the icy sensation along her body.  The voices, along with the low hum and whoosh of the heater, started to fade even further into the background, only to be replaced by a crackling and hissing noise punctuated by occasional popping.  It reminded Jeri of a campfire.  Campfire?

Jeri opened her eyes to see Andy standing inches away from the painting, with his hands up on the wall, on either side.  She leaned down and realized that he was the one making the clicking, crackling and hissing sound with his mouth, tapping his new wooden toy against the frame – which made the popping noise.  Grabbing him by the shoulders, she spun him around.  “Andy!  Stop that!  What are you doing?!”

Andy slumped to the ground, dropping the Bilboquet by his side.  “He hid!  He hid, they said it was safe!  Even the Gazette said it was fireproof!”  Curling into a corner, Andy began to wail.  Not cry.  Not whimper, but wailing like a wounded animal.  It was a sound Jeri had never heard from her son before.  It was the high-pitched sound of indescribable grief and pain.

Dropping down beside him, Jeri threw her arms around her boy to try and comfort him.  “Oh, baby.  Mommy’s here.  I’ve got you.  It’s okay.  I’ve got you.”

In one swift motion, Andy spun around and threw his arms around her neck, surprising her by the unexpected and highly unusual physical gesture.   He held on tight and whimpered in her ear.  “No way out, Bella.  There was no way out.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Jeri saw Gwen coming down the hall in what seemed like two steps.

“Eisht now, eisht!  Yelling blue murder, you are.”  In what was the most welcome people parfait ever, Gwen wrapped her arms around mother and son and began rocking side to side.  “Now, now.  Bag of nerves, you are.  There’s no fire, son.  There’s no more fire.”

Andy took a deep breath and sighed.  Lifting her head, Jeri looked to see if anyone was at the lobby desk, watching them.  The people had left, but Jeri squinted, positive that a small shadow had moved along the wall of the hallway.  But, with only overhead lightbulbs and no incoming sunlight, she could not figure out where it was coming from.

Gwen gave Andy and Jeri a big squeeze, then let go.  “Now, let’s not have this upset again.  It goes right through me, it does.”

Jeri saw that Gwen was trembling and had tears in her eyes.  “Gwen, are you okay?”

Patting her chest, Gwen inhaled deeply.  “Really, it goes right through me.  The idea that that boy gets so terribly upset.  It was such an ordeal and something that should have never happened.”

The fact that a woman they’d just met found Andy’s outburst so upsetting, upset Jeri.  How were they ever going to live in the same town, much less the same building if a brief episode like this was going to send Gwen off the rails so rapidly?

“Forgive me, Gwen.  I should explain that my son has autism and, like it or not, tantrums are a part of his neurological wiring.  I mean, this was actually way over the top, more than usual, but I feel like I should warn you – this is going to happen now and then.”

Pulling at her skirt and pushing her fingers into her hair, Gwen stood up quickly in an effort to compose herself.  “No-no, m’am.  I didn’t mean your boy.  Andy’s a darlin’ and was only reacting to the other child.”

Again, Jeri looked back down the hall to where the front desk was.  Even though she’d only caught a glimpse, she was pretty sure it was only an older couple that had come in.   “What other child?  Did the new guests checking in have a kid with them?”  She thought of small shadow that darted down the hall.

Gwen frowned and shook her head.  “There are no other children checked into the hotel, Jeri — only Andy.”

Perplexed, Jeri found herself half snorting at Gwen.  “Oh, for the love of Pete.  You have to I know I’m not crazy, Gwen.  And I want to think you’re not crazy either, because I just met you and all.  But, I could have sworn you just said that Andy was ‘only reacting to the other child.’”

“He was, m’am.  Andy was reacting to the other child’s pain.  It goes right through you, it does.  That and the fact that it should have never happened…”  She turned away, unable to complete her sentence.

Flushed with frustration, one hand on her hip and the other on her forehead, Jeri snapped at Gwen.  “Please stop speaking in riddles, Gwen!  You’re not making any sense and I can’t understand what you’re talking about.  There’s no other child here?!  Andy’s the only child checked into the hotel?!  Yet you say he’s reacting ‘to the other child’s pain.’ WHAT other child are you talking about?!  And WHAT should have never happened?!”

Leaning momentarily away from Jeri, then suddenly back toward her, Gwen pointed her finger down the hall.  “Ezra and the fire!  The fire that took poor sweet Ezra, it should have never happened!”

Once more, a chill came over Jeri, but this time it consumed her whole body and left her feeling damp and slightly dizzy.  She gripped Gwen’s sleeve and whispered, “Ezra?”

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